I cannot think of a more disappointing film than Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. I hadn’t been expecting anything at all, really, since first seeing the trailer. But even those expectations were lowered. The beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak is about 13 sentences, 330 words. How long is the film? Too long. I felt deeply betrayed when being told I was going to see this film a film that had been marketed as a kid’s film. “But kid’s movies can be adult movies too!” Yes, they can be, but do kid’s film have deep philosophical babble in the? “Well, no.”
The beginning of the film managed to portray Max (newcomer Max Records) as a whiny brat. In the book, Max is sent to his room for being rude to his mother. In the film, not only is he rude, he is completely obstinate. He yells “Feed me, woman!” dressed as some sort of monster. He then jumps onto the dining table and acts like the monster whose skin he inhabits. All while his mother is having a dinner with a “friend”. His mother, then giving up playing nice, picks him up and he actually bites her. What happens? She brings him to the floor and stares in shock and wonders as he begins to tear up and runs away from home to go off and wallow in self pity. This self pity started from the moment the film started, when his sister’s friend ruined his igloo and then he decided to vandalize her room. He just seems to be a rather selfish child. And I doubt any parents really want to watch that when they have to deal with it at home.
He gets on a boat and travels to an imaginary land where he lies to the creatures there and tells them he’s a king. He does so for odd power lust, something that I would be worried if my child had that. There, he meets Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini, The Sopranos), the anger management needing creature; Ira and Judith (Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’Hara), one who’s a pushover and one who’s a “downer” and described as this throughout the entire film; Alexander (Paul Dano), a seldom noticed creature; Douglas (Chris Cooper), Carol’s right and man; and KW (Lauren Ambrose, a seemingly quiet and sensitive creature, someone who may have had a “relationship” with Carol in the past.
The most fun and least annoying part of the film is when they’re having fun and neither being overly message pushing nor whiny. Oh, well, that lasted about 15 minutes, back to depressing and whiny characters.
The Wild Things seemed to be manifestations of Max’s feelings. It’s such a shame all these feelings were annoying, whiny, impatient, nosey, and in need of anger counseling. This portrayal pushed a message that Spike Jonze really wanted to show his audience. That message never appears explicitly or even subtlety. Lost in all the “fun” of the film was that message, whatever it was. He seemed so vehement as to show a message, shoving down the viewer’s throats, with all the philosophical symbolism and emotional plot lines, yet he never shows us what the actual message is, which loses the purpose of having a meaning to the film at all.
With all this “deep” content of the film, doesn’t that kind of ruin the mainstream demographic? Yes, it does, because it barely even lets the film become two stories that depend on the audience’s interpretation. It doesn’t even let it become a fun film. With Toy Story, for adults, you had a cheeky film about jealousy, and for kids you had a fun animated movie with cowboys, spacemen, and a message of friendship that was both coherent and not so annoying that you wanted to vomit. Subtle enough not to make parents sleep, yet wonderful enough to get the message across. This is exactly what Wild Things did not do.
The shaky camera movements are kind of a slip decision. If you don’t mind that sort of cinematography, it envelops you in the current scene (running, jumping, screaming, Rawr-ing, etc.) but if it makes you nauseous, be sure to close your eyes. The score, which featured songs Karen O and Carter Burwell, seemed to exemplify “wild rumpus”. Its main objective was to make it sound fun, no matter how inappropriate the music was for the given scene.
Another problem the film had was that it was far too scary for kids. Like Coraline before it, the film had an amazing amount of content that would deem it too violent for children. Seriously, who throws dirt clogs at each other for fun? I never did that. Am I simply a deprived child? Scenes where the Wild Things jump on each other look so realistic, mostly because of the camera work, and it makes one feel queasy and slightly violated. I cowered during the film. (SPOILER WARNING: Out of anger, Carol, rips off the right arm of Douglas. Sand seeps like blood from the wound. I think that’s a bit violent, don’t you?)
On a positive note, the costumes for the Wild Things are simply amazing. They look incredibly realistic and the facial movements, created by CGI (The only thing Jonze was willing to use it for), seem so emotional. Okay, done with that.
The movie was too deep for children to appreciate. When I walked out of the theater, I watched as ten children complained about how much they disliked the film. It was pretentious with neither support for its pretentiousness nor any real reason to be that way. The characters were whiny. And the violence was a bit ridiculous for a kid’s film. Kids complain that it’s boring and scary. I would advise you not to see this mess of a film.